I navigated the FAQ section of the Mountain Workshops website, looking for information on refunds. I had already applied and been accepted. I had already spent the money. Initially, I wanted to invest in myself. My apathy had gotten the best of me since. The doubt and disdain I had/have for myself was overpowering. There I was, a day before there was no refund available, two weeks before the start, grasping for reasons to stay home.
As I drove down to Kentucky, my spirits started to lift a little. I was getting excited. Being on the road was good for me. The construction on the way even bothered me less than usual. As the sun sank below the horizon and darkness set in, so did my doubts. Again. Thinking that I had no reason to be at Mountain. Thinking that I'll get a bum story. That I'll be stuck shooting something I didn't care about. That it'll be more of the same.
I had grown so distant from my work that I had forgotten what it's actually about. I had forgotten about the connections my work allows me to make. I forgot about investing myself into someone else's story. I forgot about the importance of it. A distant memory, it seemed.
As soon as I made contact with Dixie and Nathan, everything changed. I remembered how it felt to have empathy in my heart, genuine curiosity, while speaking with someone. The feeling of investing myself into a story came flooding back. I spent the rest of the week reveling in their family dynamic. I was enraptured by their acceptance of me in their home. In their lives. Their willingness to be themselves in front of me... and my camera.
One of the most important things that I learned is sometimes, you just need to put the damn camera down. In fact, more often than not, you don't even need it. Have conversations. Don't interview people, talk with them (this would be a good time to add the fact that I absolutely HATE referring to the folks I photograph as "subjects," it doesn't sit right with me). Ask them hard questions and let them answer. More importantly, really listen to what they have to say. In fact, don't just listen. Watch how they react. Watch their body language, their gestures, facial expressions. That's where you'll really "hear" what they're saying. Be sure to share yourself, don't just take. Don't take the photos, don't take the quotes. Honor them by sharing yourself as much, if not more, than they share with you. Be open, be honest. After all, if you aren't, how can you expect them to be?
We are often told that we need to maintain distance from the people we document. We are told that there need to be boundaries and we cannot pass them. Don't build relationships. Don't develop friendships. Don't make personal connections.
To that, I say... "pound sand."
How can we be expected to tell stories with our images without building relationships? Do our stories need to be the truth or what we perceive as the truth? How do we find the truth if we don't develop relationships? How do we find the deeper stories? I'm paraphrasing and I can't, for the life of me, remember who said this, but it was along the lines of, "if you're not having an experience, neither are they." You BETTER feel something. You BETTER give. You BETTER develop that relationship and that connection. Otherwise, it's just... hollow. Empty. How I was feeling about my work.
Not anymore. I can't wait to make more connections. Develop more relationships.
I can't wait to tell more stories. I can't wait to gain more friends.
And I sure as hell am happy I didn't get that refund.
Also, this wouldn't be complete without some thanks given. The photojournalism community is full of so many people that give and give and give. Something I try to do as much as I can, and will continue to do as long as I'm able.
My visual coach Jed Conklin and writing coach Liz Hansen were likely subjected to my insane need to communicate everything. So, thanks so much for your patience and guidance throughout the seemingly hellish week at HQ.
Terray, for enduring the experience in a shared hotel room and Waffle Hut at 0300. It was great having someone there that is in a similar place with their work as me. Also, someone old like me to share a room with. No partying like those young whippersnappers.
Jake May. The fella who always has a kind word, a heart that cannot be contained and the guy who leads by example.
And Andrew is incessantly bombarded with my bullshit and dissatisfaction and if not for him, I wouldn't have gone to Mountain. So to him, I owe many, many thanks. This experience has forever changed how I view my work.
It was such a great experience meeting so many like-minded folks and sharing a stinky elementary school for a week. Seeing folks putting so much of themselves into their craft. The late nights spent in front of the computers getting captions right, writing stories, planning the next steps. Opening yourselves up to the critique of everyone. Showing your work in front of 100+ people each night. Inspiring. Can't wait to do it all over in a different city.